(pgs. 114-125) E-LOAN Streamlining An Industry Riddled With Inefficiencies Cofounder: Janina Pawlowski, chairwoman URL: www.eloan.com Stock: EELN Founded: 1996 Headquarters: Dublin, California “Start a business because you want to make a difference, not because you want to make a lot of money. We had opportunities to sell E-Loan, but we didn’t because we wanted to build something sustainable that would change an industry that wasn’t working very well.” – Janina Pawlowski
See You At The IPO On June 29, 1999, Janina Pawlowski woke up early in her New York City hotel room with a knot in her stomach. Today was the day that E-Loan, the company she cofounded three years earlier, was going public on the Nasdaq. She rushed downtown to Goldman Sachs, the investment bank that was taking the company to market. Already there was her partner, Chris Larsen, who was as bleary-eyed as she was from two grueling weeks of crisscrossing the country pitching to institutional investors. Together, Pawlowski and Larsen stood watching the huge trading floor, feeling powerless. All they could do was wait for their ticker symbol, EELN, to appear on the large green screen and hope for the best. Finally, the stock opened….at $21, which was 50 percent higher than the offering price. In exchange for selling 10 percent of the company to the public, they‟d raised more than $50 million to grow it even more. The closing price that day was $37, which gave E-Loan a $1.4 billion market cap and made the personal stakes of the founders each worth more than $200 million. Launched in June 1997, E-Loan was the earliest entrant to the field of online mortgages, and the first to go public. Using the E-Loan Website, potential borrowers can search and compare loans offered by multiple lenders, and apply for and obtain the best loan entirely online. The site provides borrowers with the most suitable and affordable home mortgages, auto and small business loans, and credit cards. E-Loan also provides credit approval for all types of loans, and enables borrowers to track the status of their mortgage applications form submission to closing, as well as monitor their debt. The company‟s customer service staff is available seven days a week via e-mail or a toll-free number, which is printed on every page of the site. But one group of professionals is missing among E-Loan‟s staff of 170 loan processors and underwriters: loan brokers. The company is turning the traditional lending company on its head by slashing transaction costs, replacing commissioned loan agents with easy-to-use comparison shopping tools, and passing the savings on to borrowers. Whereas typical mortgage brokers charge up to two points in fees for originating a loan,
E-Loan only charges three-eights of a point. For a 30-year mortgage, on a $220,000 loan, that‟s a savings of roughly $1500. E-Loan offers loans from more than 70 lenders and more than 50,000 loan products, a far greater number than brick-and-mortar brokerages can provide. This vast selection means consumers can land better rates than those typically offered by loan agents. The company also approves and funds more than 50 percent of its loans, which give sit the ability to eliminate the inefficiencies caused by scads of intermediaries in the traditional cumbersome lending process. “Savings are possible because we use the Internet to make the paper-laden, middleman process much more consumer-friendly and efficient,” Pawlowski explains. A Wonderful Life How did Pawlowski make the journey to become the cofounder of a successful dotcom dedicated to taking the pain out of borrowing money? The daughter of postwar Polish immigrants, she grew up in Rochester, New York, and as a teen worked in her father‟s credit union, which helped other Poles buy their first homes in the United States. Little did she know that she was learning the facets of a business that would help shape E-Loan more than a decade later. “Working in this version of the building and loan in It’s A Wonderful Life formed my personality of fighting for the consumer,” says the 40-year-old entrepreneur. Pawlowski graduated with a degree in agricultural economics from Cornell University, but then stepped on the road to finance, earning an MBA from the University of Rochester, where she met her first husband. Shortly after the wedding, he got a position at aerospace contractor Lockheed-Martin, so they moved to Palo Alto, California. Pawlowski‟s wanderlust was apparently as strong as George Bailey‟s, the lead character in It’s A Wonderful Life, who wants nothing more than to see the world. Far from being sad about leaving her hometown behind, she was excited. “Rochester was getting too small, and California was always this dream place I wanted to live in,” she says. Even the face that she moved there three days before the massive 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake didn‟t squelch her enthusiasm. In 1990 she got a real-estate broker‟s license, gave birth to a baby boy, and began working for a San Jose-based mortgage brokerage. After two years, she joined a Palo Alto brokerage, where she met and developed a close friendship and soon-to-be business partnership with coworker Chris Larsen. “We hit it right off on the spot,” she says. “We thought alike, both had MBAs in finance, and both felt we were overeducated for our positions.” But Pawlowski‟s relationship with her employer turned sour when her boss tried to make her push higher margin loans. Swimming with “loan sharks” held no appeal for her or Larsen, so they jumped ship to start a more ethical brick-and-mortar mortgage brokerage called the Palo Alto Funding Group (PAFG). The adoption to selling over the Net was soon to follow. In 1995, Pawlowski received a call from CommerceNet, a nonprofit consortium of technology companies that saw potential – and profit – in the Internet, which was more buzzword than business application at the time. CommerceNet was helping small businesses get hooked up to the Net at no cost and wanted to know if PAFG was interested in a free router ad ISDN line. Pawlowski wasn‟t sure what this all meant, but
since there was no catch, she approved the installation. CommerceNet reps came in, networked PAFG‟s Macs, and installed Netscape Navigator on them. Soon Pawlowski and Larsen were surfing the Web. One of the first things they noticed was the absence of any Websites offering mortgages. And their big idea struck: They would become an online originator of cheaper, better, faster loans, cutting out brokers and their fat commissions. Bumps In The Road A great idea doesn‟t necessarily translate into a stress-free business-building experience, however. The demands of starting E-Loan left Pawlowski with scant time for her husband and contributed to the end of their marriage, which ended in 1995. She invested everything she had in the business and then some – maxing out her credit cards and damaging her credit rating so badly that when she tested out a rival loan site by applying for a loan, she was denied. It also wasn‟t easy for her to juggle starting a new business with being a single mom. Raising capital proved tough too. Even though Pawlowski knew from her experience as a mortgage broker that borrowers hated reviewing their credit reports and sharing information about their income and assets with a broker, convincing VCs that people would be willing to secure mortgages without this face-to-face interaction was a hard sell. And the fact that Pawlowski was female didn‟t pass unnoticed. “One group of VCs told me that I‟ll never forget took me to lunch and told me that they didn‟t have a problem with the fact that I was a woman – not just once but all throughout the meal,” she remembers. “I wondered why they were so focused on this instead of the businesses. Needless to say, we didn‟t work with them.” It got worse. By January 1997 Pawlowski and Lauren had created a glitzy, Shockwave-based, animated prototype of their site for their presentation to investors. But when they showed it to Scott Russell, a partner and managing director at Softbank Technology Ventures, the room fell silent. Finally, he spoke. “I‟m going to be brutal,” he said. “What is this animation crap?” After the disastrous meeting, the pair picked up books on Perl and HTML and, six months later, officially launched the mortgage site they dubbed E-Loan. Despite little fanfare, the online service took off. When a mention in a San Francisco Chronicle article got them 240 mortgage applications in a single day, Pawlowski knew they had the workings of a Website that could appeal to loan applications nationwide. They made more pitches to investors showing off their now-live Website that emphasized ease of use over eye candy. By December 1997, they secured a first round of $5.5 million from Benchmark Capital. Managing director Bob Kagle was the dream investor, says Pawlowski. “He‟s one of the most intuitive men I‟ve met and goes with his gut.” Despite E-Loan‟s growing popularity and revenues, by fall 1998 the company was running out of cash. It was burning $250,000 a month paying its 150 employees and financing an ad campaign that poked fun at the traditional loan industry. With cash in the kitty low, Pawlowski and Larsen faced a tough decision: seek a second round of funding and continue building the business, or sell it for a price that would make them both multimillionaires. The latter option was offered to them by Intuit, which already had a site, QuickenMortgage, but wanted to buy E-Loan‟s proprietary technology and market
share for $130 million. This would have let the two founders, who together held 40 percent of E-Loan each walk away with $10 million and $16 million in Intuit stock, but E-Loan would have been absorbed by Intuit and ceased to exist as its own entity. The Business Model The size of E-Loan‟s potential market is mind-boggling. Forrester Research estimates that the U.S> consumer lending industry was worth $1.9 trillion in 1999. At $1.2 trillion, mortgages make up the largest portion of this market. (Home equity loans, auto loans and credit cards make up the rest.) Online mortgages reached 1.4 percent of all mortgages in 1999 – roughly $18 billion. And according to Forrester, they‟ll climb to $91.2 billion by 2003, becoming almost 10 percent of the entire mortgage market. Loans are ideally suited to being sold on the Internet. They‟re complex and paperintensive, require extensive research to pinpoint the right product and provider, and don‟t require physical proximity between the borrower and lender. What‟s more, the industry is incredibly fragmented: The five largest lenders have only a quarter of the market. And because complicated processes, unnecessary fees, and the difficulty of comparison shopping make so many people dread applying for a loan, consumers are readily adopting the Net as a preferable source of loans. E-Loan‟s principal revenue comes form mortgage origination fees and gains from selling those loans on the secondary market. These sources represent more than 40 percent of the company‟s revenue, which was $22.1 million in 1999. E-Loan sells the servicing value of both its self-funded and brokered loans to the highest bidder in the capital market. The company earns another 40 percent of its revenue through originating and reselling auto loans. The remaining 20 percent comes from the interest the company earns on mortgage and auto loans during the period it holds them before reselling as well as money made from offering small business loans and credit cards.
Hold Or Sell? Pawlowski was at odds with her business partner. She wanted to keep the company independent (she didn‟t like the idea of selling a business they‟d been building to last), but Larsen, anxious because E-Loan was on the brink of running out of cash, wanted to take the money. To get beyond the impasse, Larsen set an ultimatum: He‟d walk away from Intuit‟s offer if Pawlowski drummed up an equity investment that paid them each at least $5 million in cash and carried a similar valuation for the company. With only a few days to go before their deal-closing meeting with Intuit, Pawlowski had to think fast. She boldly called Tim Koogle, Yahoo!‟s CEO, and explained the situation. To her surprise, he wanted to help. As timing would have it, the next evening he had dinner with Japanese billionaire Masayoshi Son, head of Softbank, and they worked out an offer that met Larsen‟s terms. The next morning, just hours before the Intuit meeting, Pawlowski‟s phone range and Koogle gave her a verbal offer: a $25 million investment in exchange for a 23 percent stake in the company and $5 million in cash for each of the founders, who would retain about 30 percent ownership. Even though Yahoo! set the valuation for E-Loan slightly lower than Intuit had, an equity investment, unlike an outright buyout, would let E-Loan live on as an independent company run by Pawlowski and Larsen, so they quickly accepted.
With this investment, Koogle joined E-Loan‟s all-star board of directors ad started doing his part to help E-Loan into an online-lending powerhouse. When his company faced the growing pains of figuring out how to scale operations fast enough to handle hundreds of loan applications each day, Koogle helped hammer out a solution. He reviewed the company‟s entire back-end processes, making suggestions about ways to streamline operations at every step. “He had little knowledge of mortgages, but has a strong background in manufacturing and building Websites that he‟s able to apply to all kinds of different processes,” says Pawlowski. “The guy‟s a genius.” Leading The Way to Cheaper Loans Since it was launched, E-Loan‟s volume of closed loans has grown dramatically. In 1999, the company closed $1.5 billion worth of mortgages and more than $130 million in auto loans, making it the top-ranked site in the online mortgage and auto financing markets. That put 1999 revenues at more than $22 million, up 223 percent from the previous year. If E-Loan continues executing its plan, it will be turning a profit by 2003. E-Loan has been fortunate to be able to ride the wave of a strong U.S> economy. In 1998 falling interest rates drove up the number of mortgage originations by 70 percent, and E-Loan processed 5000 loans that year – one-fourth of all online mortgages. Because the volume of refinancing mortgages drops in times of rising interest rates, the company is restructure its business so that it‟s less reliant on refinance loans and therefore less affected by rising interest rates. To further reduce its dependency on the whims of any one country‟s interest rates, E-Loan has expanded itself overseas. In 1999 it established joint ventures in the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand through Softbank affiliate eVentures. It also started E-Loan Europe in partnership with Groupe Arnault in Paris, and began marketing online mortgages in Japan and Korea. Going beyond the home mortgage market, E-Loan has formed alliances to offer home equity lines of credit and small business loans, and to process subprime mortgage loans. “When anyone wants any type of loan, we want them to come to us,” says Pawlowski. To this end, the company as forged exclusive deals with strategic Internet partners to direct prospective customers to its Website. A third of its loan applicants are referred from Websites with he audiences such as Yahoo!, E*Trade and Charles Schwab, as well as online banks and auto sites. “These alliances aren‟t done for the sake of branding,” says Pawlowski. “We‟re always asking, „Are we getting the revenue per loan to pay for this?‟ It‟s an ongoing analysis.” As for competition, it‟s fierce, both online and off. But as the first mover and first company to go public in this niche, E-Loan definitely has an advantage. “Entering the market first definitely gave us an upper hand when it came to making deals and acquisitions afterward, and helped propel us forward quickly,” Pawlowski, noting that the IPO enabled them to buy CarFInance.com from Bank of America and extend their offerings to include auto loans. Sites such as Intuit‟s QuickenLoans, iOwn and Mrtgage.com represent E-Loan‟s online competitors. Offline mortgage brokers such as Countrywide Home Loans represent E-Loan's brick-and-mortar rivals, but the company has a cost-savings advantage over them since it doesn‟t have to maintain branch offices. Banks such as Wells Fargo and Bank of America have created Websites that sell loans
directly, but because they are single institutional sellers, they can neither offer a multilender selection nor reduce their fees, for fear of cannibalizing their offline distribution channels. Radically Pro-Consumer For Pawlowski, fighting for consumers‟ rights is key to ensuring E-Loan‟s continuing success. IN a bold move, the company made consumer credit scores available over the site. Mortgage shoppers nationwide could see what they looked like to lenders in terms of credit risk. Fair, Isaac & Co., the developer of these scores (known as FICO credit scores), which are used by nearly all mortgage companies to determine a person‟s mortgage destiny, considers the scores proprietary and safeguards them from consumers, as do most lenders. When Fair, Isaac found out that E-Loan was publishing the scores online, it made Equifax cut off data flow to the company, so E-Loan turned to another credit bureau to continue this service. Although Fair, Isaac weren‟t happy to see credit scores made public, savvy borrowers were. E-Loan was swamped with new visitors who wanted to register to see their never-before-publicly-available scores and get advice to help increase them. “Why should these scores be kept secret when they‟re so important?” asks Pawlowski. “The policy goes against the whole idea of the Internet, where you have free access to the information that‟s important to you and you use that information to accomplish what you want.” She is encouraging E-Loan users to lobby their legislators and to put pressure on Fair, Isaac to make the scores public. Since starting E-Loan, Pawlowski has alternated being CEO with Larsen every two years, but when it came time for her to take the CEO role once again in 1999, she opted to become chairwoman instead. “Chris is more patient with analysts and better able to focus on Wall Street and investors," she explains. “I‟m more focused on the company internals and the product itself.” She‟s enjoying her busy life as a high-powered exec. She‟s happily remarried, and E-Loan‟s success has certainly helped mend her credit rating by now. She‟s focused on making the company the best it can be and is fanatically dedicated to serving the needs of the site‟s customers. “I think I‟ll do this forever,” she says. “There‟s so much left to do to make borrowing better for customers.” Janina Pawlowski’s THREE LESSONS LEARNED 1. “Don’t blindly believe the experts. They‟re usually following some other expert, who heard from some other expert, and so on. Trust your instincts and use your own judgment.” 2. “Build a strong management team quickly, and pay for the best talent you can find.” 3. “Aim for the impossible. Too few people challenge what already exists, and it‟s the only way to make progress.”
E-Loan:KEY STRATEGIC TAKEAWAYS When searching for a business idea, look form one that streamlines a process or cuts out intermediaries using the Internet. A main reason for E-Loan‟s success is its ability to offer lowerpriced loans by cutting traditional mortgage brokers (and their commissions) out of the loop. Before you present to investors, get feedback. Pitch coaches, investors who are friends or colleagues, and executives can be great sources of honest, direct feedback. Use partnerships as marketing tools. E-Loan has partnered with highly trafficked sites that refer visitors. Expand your revenue base from one to multiple sources. E-Loan was satisfied with its stream of refinance mortgage loans but, in an interest-rate-sensitive economy, found it best to offer a wide variety of loan types, both domestically and abroad, to be better protected during times of rising interest rates. If another company wants to buy yours, consider whether the money, or having control and running the business the way you want to, is more important. Understand that the IPO process isn‟t objective or efficient. Pawlowski was surprised to learn that taking a company public is, as she puts it, a big game with flaky rules.” For example, institutional investors generally don‟t show interest or enthusiasm during road show pitches since doing so could raise the stock‟s offering price. “You‟d think the process would be more related to real demand, but it‟s not,” she says.